According to a study conducted over a period of 25 years, frequent and long-term use of lye-based hair straightening products, or relaxers, may increase the risk of breast cancer among Black women.
Boston University’s Black Women’s Health Study followed 59,000 self-identified African American women for over 25 years, sending questionnaires every two years on new diagnoses and factors that might influence their health.
According to PBS:
Why it matters
There is an urgent need to address racial disparities in breast cancer.
Black women diagnosed with breast cancer are 40 percent more likely to die from the disease than white women.
Black women are more likely than white women to develop highly aggressive breast cancers that have higher mortality rates, but researchers don’t really know why.
However, scientists do know that chemical hair relaxers, more often used by Black women, contain potentially harmful chemicals, including possible carcinogens and chemicals known as endocrine disrupters, which can interfere with hormone function and could raise breast cancer risk.
In the Black Women’s Health Study, 95 percent of women reported past or current use of these products.
This study fills a knowledge gap on the potential health effects of a consumer product popular among Black women.
Given these findings, women may want to be cautious about the types of personal-care products they choose.
What still isn’t known
Because the Black Women’s Health Study did not have information on specific brands of hair relaxers, my team and I could not determine which specific ingredients might be most relevant for breast cancer risk.
In addition, because we asked about hair relaxer use before 1997, the results of this study may not apply to products on the market today.
Though our findings suggest a link between the use of certain types of hair relaxers and breast cancer, epidemiologic studies such as this one cannot definitively prove that hair relaxers cause breast cancer.
Additional research is needed, especially on currently available products.
What other research is being done
Thanks to 59,000 study participants in the Black Women’s Health Study, our research team continues to investigate risk factors for breast cancer and other diseases in Black women.
By understanding what causes disease and learning about ways to lower risk, society can move one step closer toward eliminating health disparities.
The interesting thing about this is, there has been an upward swing in the narrative around the use of relaxers recently.
In an article posted by Allure Magazine, Ashley White uploaded a video to her YouTube channel, All about Ash, titled “Why I Relaxed My Natural Hair + Signs That You May Want To Relax Your Natural Hair.”
In the 25 minute video, she gives her reason for moving away from Natural hair.
Stating: “Overall, being natural was just too time-consuming for me and I just didn’t care to put that much time into doing my hair.”
If that’s not enough if you are on Tiktok, search for the term “relaxers are back”, you will see that there are a few black women who are having quite the change of heart.
What do you think, will this new study lead to women walking away from relaxers once and for all, or are we still rocking with natural hair for life?